Wednesday, October 3, 2007

A Walk in the Woods

This weekend I took all four boys for a nature walk. We are lucky enough to have our property border undeveloped public land Therefore it is a simple matter to go through our back gate and into the Georgia woods and, after about 20 minutes, reach the shores of a lovely lake.

This time I also decided to begin the first in a series of wilderness navigation and survival lessons as part of homeschooling. I was in the US Army for 8 years and spent most of that time at tactical posts. Which means, really, I spent a lot of time in the forests, swamps, deserts, and mountains of the US and a few other places. I used to teach land navigation at my unit on Ft. Bragg and, to be honest, love simply being in wilderness.

200 yaards from your grill might not count as 'wilderness', but it is the right place to teach people the basics before you get there. I took my compass so that the boys could learn the first lesson - be ready. If you are planning on going into the wild, even just a 1/2 mile hike through forests to the lake, make sure you have at least the basic stuff you need, like real shoes and a hat.

The second lesson was - compasses don't lie. When I was teaching land navigation the #2 reason people got lost was they were sure that they decided they knew better than their compass. It sounds odd, but people tend to assume they know where they are going. When the compass disagrees with them, many people ignore the compass as 'wrong'.

After that, we settled into basic movement through the woods. The first 'trick' I taught them was to use the compass to pick a marching point. This is pretty simple; use the compass to decide which way you should go, then pick out an object that is in that direction and walk to it. This means you spend most of your time actually paying attention to your surroundings and very little time staring at a compass. The best type of compass for this is a lensatic compass. If you are new to using compasses, I suggest a cheap lensatic, like the military marching compass (link below). If you want a more rugged lensatic, then pick up the Brunton Classic (also linked below). The Brunton is twice the cost of the Military Marching, but it is easily 5 times tougher.

When we reached our first marching target (a tree, of course), I showed them the seond trick - routinely pause to look behind you. This isn't fear of zombies, this is to familiarize yourself with the return route. Many people do a good job of getting to somewhere then get lost coming back. This is more psychology; people assume, subconsciously, that they already know the terrain and are less careful when attempting to retrace their steps. In fact, if you don't stop to look around and to specifically look behind you, you have little idea what the return trail looks like.

This is closely related to the number one reason people got lost in land navigation training; they simply weren't paying attention. They were looking at their compass; they were looking at their map; they were looking straight ahead. Then, when something distracted them (and something always does), they had no idea where they actually were. When travelling in the wilderness, look around. Pay attention. Notice funny-looking trees, deadfalls, and patches of sun. Check the time of day, the position of the sun, and the slope of the land. It sounds like a lot, but humans are very good at remembering this stuff - if they bother to look.

The next lesson was blazing a trail. No, this doesn't mean storming through at high speed, or even being first; in the wilderness, 'blazing' means 'marking a trail'. Sometimes obstacles keep you from following a compass bearing exactly. As a matter of fact, even in the desert you usually have to move in something rather unlike a straight line. To make sure you can retrace your route, you mark where you changed directions. This is also a help if you end up lost or hurt - others can follow your movements until the point you stopped marking your trail.

There are three rules to blazes: make them visible; make them clear; and make them for the worst.

Make them visible means to put them in the open. I once saw someone put a mark at ground level 4 feet off the trail!

Make them clear means indicate clearly what direction you were going to go when you made the mark. An X on a tree means very little. An arrow means a lot.

Make them for the worst means make them so they are there when you come back. A line of leaves on the ground is not a blaze; one light breeze and they are all gone.

These simple things were all we covered this time. We were able to travel about 1/8th of a mile through trees and brush and then retrace our path virtually exactly. While this may sound simple, it is the best way to start; simple and short.

More to come!

Products Mentioned in the Article:

A good starter compass

A Rugged Compass - I own one

Books Related to this Practical Homeschooling Topic:

A Great Resource - I own it

Maybe the Best Book on Navigating Without Tools - I own it

No comments: